MOBILE, Ala (WKRG) — During his almost two-decade tenure as general manager of the Mobile BayBears, Bill Shanahan became good friends with the city’s biggest baseball legend.
“The word that reminds me of Hank Aaron is humility,” Shanahan said Friday after learning Aaron had passed away at the age of 86. “Hank Aaron was a humble man. He never wanted to put himself in the spotlight.”
Shanahan helped bring a Southern League team to Mobile in 1997 and oversaw the construction of the team’s ballpark — Hank Aaron Stadium. “The Hank” as it became known opened in April 1997, and Aaron threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the inaugural game.
“For him to come back to Mobile, his home town, and for the community to dedicate that stadium in his name meant a lot to him,” Shanahan said. “He did say that opening night was the greatest moment in his life. And you think ‘Wow! Hank Aaron had a lot of great moments, and we got to be with him on that special moment.’”
Over the years, Aaron appeared often at his namesake stadium. He celebrated his 70th and 75th birthdays there. He appeared at Southern League and AA All-Star Games delighting the rising stars playing in those contests.
In 2010, Shanahan arranged to have Aaron’s childhood home moved from Toulminville to the stadium, where it was converted to a museum devoted to Hank’s life and career. The museum was opened on April 14, 2010, with a veritable who’s who in baseball in attendance.
“Think about that dedication,” Shanahan said. “He didn’t want that notoriety, but Reggie Jackson, ‘Mr. October’ flew in. The commissioner of baseball, Bud Selig flew in. The greatest shortstop in Mobile and all of baseball Ozzie Smith flew in. One of the greatest pitchers of all time, Bob Feller, flew in. And another Hall of Famer, Willie Mays.”
Hall of Famers Rickey Henderson and Goose Gossage were also in attendance.
The BayBears moved away from Mobile following the 2019 season. Shanahan hopes Mobilians will support events held at “The Hank” to keep the stadium and museum open.
“We need to continue to honor the great Hank Aaron.”